Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stranded in Tokyo...

In a major airport like San Francisco International Airport, technicians were not able to move the passenger boarding bridge from the flight. After struggling for almost 2 hours they decided to move the flight away from the bridge, rather than the other way around! So outcome of all this?

  • Missed my connecting flight to Delhi from Tokyo.
  • Which meant one more day of delay before I meet my dear husband whom I hadn't seen for over a month
  • Which meant, I get to spend less time with him, before he leaves to the US on an official trip, in a week's time 
  • Which meant being stranded alone in Tokyo.
  • I got a transit visa with 4 days validity
  • Stay at a 4-star hotel
  • Return ticket to Delhi the next day
  • Got to meet and interact with an amazing lady
  • Last but not the least, I had half a day to see Tokyo and I had found the right company with whom I could go around! 
View from my hotel room
 The flight finally landed at 5:00pm and my connecting flight was at 5:30pm. In a state of panic, I was rushing towards the next gate hoping that I might be able to make it just in time. But people from the airline were waiting to let us know that the boarding had closed and that we will be provided stay and a return ticket the next day same flight. There were a few others who were in the same state as mine. That was when I met this amazing lady, she is a Scientist in the Pharmaceutical Industry and she was traveling to India to set up a new office in Noida. We both decided to stay together so that it would be easy to take care of logistics, finding the formalities to be done, collecting baggage, getting to the hotel, checking in and out and getting back to the airport the next day.

After checking in and letting the feeling sink in that I am in a completely foreign land unexpectedly, I decided to settle in for the night and sleep it off. Surprisingly, I slept peacefully but then got up by 5:00am. I had another 12 hours to kill. So got ready, made myself a cup of coffee and started searching if there was anything close by and found a Temple which was about 30 minutes drive from the hotel where we were staying. Around 8am, I called my Scientist friend and asked if she was ready for breakfast and over breakfast I suggested about this temple and she was totally for it.

So we took a cab just outside the hotel and headed to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.

The temple is a very old Buddhist temple built in the year 940. There are many shrines inside this spacious complex.

Monks of the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple - looks like the color of the robes indicate their ranks

The above photograph is inside the main hall. After seeing the main hall, we started walking around the grounds towards the other temples.

We walked around the grounds exploring the different temples. Everything was in Japanese so it was quite difficult to really understand much.

As we kept walking we finally reached the top most level of the grounds. There we found another temple. This looked like it was the main temple, the Great Pagoda of Peace.
Great Pagoda of Peace

Main idol inside the pagoda of Peace

Unique Water fountain
Another unique water fountain

Finally, after couple of hours of walking around the various temples we set out onto the main street. Explored it for sometime till our cab arrived to take us back to the hotel.

We checked out around noon and then went back to the airport with 5 hours to spend. And then Tokyo Narita Airport was well explored, from one end to another!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kumarakom - Backwater luxury

Connect with nature - CHECK

Now it was time for some indulgence! Which meant checking into Backwater Ripples, Sunset cruise, Speed boat tour, and ofcourse rest and recuperation... re-energizing ourselves before we head back home.
Backwater Ripples

Getting to Backwater Ripples from Vagamon:
Thanks to my Google Navigator which lost signal as we were driving back, we took a wrong turn and started heading north rather than going west. This caused a slight delay in our travel but then we were able to turn back before we were completely lost, thanks to my husband's natural navigational skills. He decided that the sun was not where it was supposed to be, so the route I was telling him was not correct!

Once checking in to Backwater Ripples, we decided to rest for sometime - I was very thankful for that! The imaginary Swedish Memsahib and her lover who were killed in that cottage (the characters from the spooky story that I heard in Vagamon) had made sure I don't close my eyes for too long the previous night. I couldn't be more thankful to get some sleep! But the best part of all this was, I really love this sleep; the kind which you crave for, the feeling a desert traveler would get after hallucinating about water and then finally finding an oasis, water would taste like ambrosia to him. A perfect analogy for that moment when I put my head down on that pillow! And then I slept... like a baby! A power nap was all I needed to get back into form.

Things to do:
Rejuvenate at the ayurvedic spa, go on a sunset cruise, cool down at the swimming pool, or just relax on the hammock with a book...

We decided to go on the sunset cruise, a nice way to relax. The cruise is for almost 45 minutes starting at 5:30pm and we are in the middle of the lake when the sun sets. On a clear day you can see the sun setting at the horizon. After the cruise, we cycled around the resort for sometime, played some table tennis, caroms and then decided to call it a night.

But if you are looking for something which rushes your adrenaline then you can go for the speed boat ride. Its real fun, the speed boat can go from 50 to 150 kmph in a few seconds. They will take you from Kumarakom to Allapuzha crossing the Vembanad lake and would take you through the various canals, some narrow ones too.

A old woman fishing outside her house for her lunch

A fisherman pulling out his catch as we cross him on our speed boat...
The speed boat ride lasts for almost 2 hours and you get a complete tour of the Kuttanad area, the Nehru Stadium where the annual snake boat race happens, the narrow canals of Allapuzha, small backwater villages and then back to Kumarakom.
Once we got back, we decided to check out and head back home. Before leaving, we lazed around some more time near the lotus pond and hammock. We really didn't want to leave this place behind but our holiday was coming to an end and we had to get back to reality.
Overall the Kerala holiday was a huge hit, a very lazy and rejuvenating one and we all came back refreshed and ready to get back to work!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Vagamon Heights... mystical... meadows... mists...

House boats - CHECK

Next stop - Vagamon! After breakfast on the houseboat, we hit the road again. The plan was to reach Vagamon for lunch. Never heard about this place? Now that is the reason why this place is so beautiful, so pristine and a real feast to your eyes.

"Life is not about the destination, but about the journey."  
This is so apt for our travel too to Vagamon. As you drive through the Rubber plantations and estates, Rubber trees hovering over us, not too many cars on the road, a couple of men talking and walking unhurriedly, sun light fights its way in between the trees, you realize that life is good! 
As you start climbing up, you can see the scenery changing right in front of your eyes. Tall trees slowly start to disappear and area becomes more mountainous and hilly. Roads become narrow with sharper curves and you can smell the mist in the air. 
You will find a number of small water falls as you drive further up towards Vagamon. The weather is as dynamic as it gets, clear skies one minute and all of a sudden clouds set in making the entire scene gloomy and misty.

Google's navigator was of great help here. We were able to find "Vagamon Heights" without much of a hassle. Vagamon Heights has great reviews on Tripadvisor, when we are checking out places to stay in vagamon this was one of the top finds.
The people at VH are extremely efficient, whether it was replying to my query through email or confirming booking. We had booked the Woodside cottage which comes with 2 bedrooms and its a little away from the main office and kitchen. A true hideout if you want to escape from your crazy hectic life and reconnect with nature (including leech attack... so come prepared). 

But the catch here is that to get to the cottage you need to drive down in a Jeep (yup, Toyota Etios won't be able to make it in there). So you park your car near the office and then climb into one of their "Go-Over-All-Terrain" vehicle (basically a jeep, a very old one). A good ride if you like amusement parks, not so good for people having back problems. But then the ride feels worth while, when you get down and you see the cottage placed amidst the dense estate.
Path leading to the cottage from the main entrance
Took this photograph as we rattled our way towards the cottage in the old jeep!
So typically you are cut off from civilization, the cottage is nestled amidst thick forest-like vegetation. They did mention that there weren't any wild animals around but then the place as such can give you the creeps. The cottage as such was a very cozy place. With 2 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a small kitchenette and a small terrace and a sit out. Kitchenette which is more like a counter, is stocked with an electric kettle and everything required to make tea and coffee (at least for a week). Breakfast/Lunch and Dinner has to be brought in from the main kitchen which is near the main office. The catch is, there is no telephone connection in the cottage. So the way it works is that you tell them the time you want your next meal and the meal would be delivered at that time. 

The cottage is furnished with comfortable couches and a dining table, bathrooms also comes with modern fixtures and yup you don't have to worry about hot water. The cottage also comes with candles and matches and this you would need a lot in the night, as electricity is not your best friend. And if you are going here, don't forget to take a few things with you:
  • Odomos - to save yourself from mosquitoes
  • Rock salt/matches - to save yourself from leeches
  • Torchlight - to save yourself from darkness ;)
Once we settled down, we took time to take it all in and started exploring the place. Absolute greenery all around, the chill breeze, extremely pure air, as you breathe it in you feel so fresh and energetic. You feel the oxygen content in your body going up and you start feeling "ALIVE"!

The best part of this place is the climate, the way it changes from one minute to another. At one moment, it might be extremely clear and bright and then just in a flash of a second, it could become all misty and the clouds would float in and you wouldn't even be able to see in front of you.

Sudden onset of rain and mist
What better way to enjoy a weather like this one, than having hot pakoras with hot tea! That was exactly what we did, sitting outside on the patio and watching the rain and the scenery we hogged on some very nice pakoras. Once the rains stopped, I wanted to go and take some photographs and that is how I invited some leeches onto me. Thankfully my jeans saved me from getting my blood sucked!
I love this photograph, even though its not very sharp... its an handheld shot and had to keep a slow shutter speed since the light wasn't enough with the rains and the trees hovering over!
The night was the most interesting part of our stay, most of the time we were in darkness with absolutely no sound other than our voices, and ofcourse that of insects. Looking outside you would see pitch darkness except for the light from the cottage and the ghostly shadows of the swaying trees. Beyond the first few trees all you can see is darkness. If your imagination can go wild, please don't listen to ghost stories in this place. I am telling you from experience. I was told a very small ghost story, the story had exactly 5 sentences, but my imagination was good enough to bring it to life. That is when I completely realized "Your eyes sees what you want to see" concept could be true. A small movement of a curtain or the hanging light fixture in the bedroom was enough to spook me. I was awake the entire night making up more stories from the base story that I had heard. I can laugh about it right now but it was totally scary then!

The next morning after breakfast we decided to explore the place for sometime and then check out. There was a small hillock close by that you can trek up and you would find yourself at a vantage point, a place from which you can get 360 degree view of Vagamon. 
Path leading the way up the hillock
The scenery from the View point on top of the hillock
With the photo session complete at the view point, we decided to check out and get on back to civilization. Overall the experience in Vagamon was very very unique, even getting scared at night was an experience I would cherish. They say that "Green color cools you down" and that was exactly our state of mind when we left this place.

Near the main office
An in-house lake where you can go fishing and boating if you are not scared of leeches :)
Once we got back onto the road, we backtracked and headed towards Kottayyam. The ride back into civilization was also equally picturesque and beautiful.

Again a hand-held shot with slow shutter speed in order to capture the flowing water

On reaching Kottayyam we stopped for lunch and then started to think what to do! Decided we had one more day and thought this time we should splurge and do something luxurious. And thus, our next stop - Kumarakom!

Vagamon - mystical... meadows... mists...